Here are some takeaways from No. 11 Kansas’ 92-86 conference-opening victory at Texas:
1. That win was vitally important for No. 14
The Longhorns aren’t on anybody’s national championship radar, but they’re a solid squad that will definitely knock off two or three of the top five teams in the Big 12 at home this year. With the goal of winning a 14th straight Big 12 title in mind, Kansas did itself a favor by picking up a victory in a building that some of their biggest competitors will surely lose in this season.
With West Virginia picking up a road win at Oklahoma State in a similar scenario, the Jayhawks didn’t want to fall behind the Mountaineers on the first day of league play. They’ve now won 27 consecutive conference openers, which is perhaps the reason they win the conference every year – they’re never playing catch-up in the standings. If KU doesn’t lose at home, the worst it can be through five league games is 4-1. This may prove to be a huge key in winning yet another conference title.
2. It took awhile, but Udoka Azubuike hung in there with Mohamed Bamba
In the first half, the Texas freshman stud had his way with Udoka Azubuike, scoring 16 points and getting five of his eight blocks. Bill Self surely had some choice words for his center at halftime, because Azubuike came out after the break a different player. He simplified his offensive approach and began going straight into Bamba, as opposed to his first half technique, when he took extra dribbles and steps in attempt to improve his position. Against a player as long as Bamba, there’s not a whole lot you can improve on down low, so the best strategy to take is to go straight into him.
Azubuike finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, and after the game, Self revealed that he almost didn’t play because of back soreness. Considering the circumstances, and also the fact that he was going against the best center he’s going to face this season, Azubuike did very well on Friday night.
3. They take a lot of threes…
35 three-point attempts. 17 makes (a school record for a conference game). The numbers are psychotic. Just a couple of years ago, Bill Self was very hesitant to let his team shoot a lot of threes. He called them “fool’s gold.” And while surely KU will lose a couple of games this conference slate because the three-point shot isn’t falling, they’re going to win a lot of them with that strategy, too.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham, and Lagerald Vick made 16 of Kansas’ 17 threes and combined for 64 points. It’s not only clear how the Jayhawks are going to win games this year, but also who they’re going to lean on to cruise towards 14 straight. The Jayhawks do take a lot of threes…
4. … but that strategy was more necessary on Friday than it will be most nights
KU is going to shoot a lot of threes, but look at the circumstances on Friday night. With Mo Bamba and his 15 rebounds and eight blocks waiting in the paint, I can’t say I would have been too eager to drive the ball, either. The Jayhawks definitely needed to be more reliant on three-point shooting against Texas than they will be against other opponents. That’s not saying that this KU team is good at getting to the rim or the free throw line, because they’re not. But I do think that in every other matchup, they’ll do a better job of picking up points in the paint, especially when Silvio De Sousa or Billy Preston become eligible later on.
5. Svi Mykhailiuk finally hit some shots away from Allen Fieldhouse
Entering the contest, Svi Mykhailiuk was shooting 60% on three-pointers at Allen Fieldhouse, and 27% on threes in all other venues. He clanked his first three looks, but then caught fire and drilled five of his last seven threes. His hot streak midway in the second half turned a close game into a 10-point lead for the Jayhawks, and they really never looked back.
Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick, for the most part, are consistent enough to give you 15 points per game. They’re not likely to cost KU any games. When Mykhailiuk is on, it gives the Jayhawks arguably their top weapon when it comes to a score-from-all-parts-of-the-floor perspective. It’s no accident that when he started playing well, the Jayhawks took control of the contest.
6. Bill Self is so, so much better than Shaka Smart
Self took Smart to school on Friday night. It was a three-point margin at halftime, and Self switched up his defense by going to a 2-3 zone, which confused Texas and slowed down Bamba considerably. As for Smart, despite the fact that Kansas drained 17 threes, he continued to stick with a zone defense that gave the Jayhawks all the open looks they wanted. Smart grew frustrated with the game and was T’d up late in the contest. Since arriving at Texas, Smart is 0-5 against Kansas by a scoring margin of -67. Friday showed that those numbers definitely aren’t a fluke.
Up next: the Jayhawks (11-2, 1-0) return home for a Tuesday night date with No. 22 Texas Tech (12-1, 1-0), who is coming off a surprising 24-point thrashing of No. 18 Baylor Friday night.